Things take time here in Knoxville, so I wasn’t surprised it took Event Services four days to call me back. Lorraine, with whom I spoke, seemed somewhat taken aback when I answered. This, upon reflection, was because the voice mail I had left was in my best southern drawl, very unlike the one speaking with her. She told me no, I could not sell my portraits in Market Square downtown, but I could draw for donations, in which case I would be considered a “busker” and would not need a permit. Buskers are welcome anywhere there is not an Event so long as foot traffic is unimpeded. “It’s strange,” she said “we don’t have ANY portrait artists.”
“Maybe,” I suggested, “Artists don’t like to give their work away for free.” This was not MY feeling, however, I was stoked. The police, who directed me to Event Services, had led me to believe I wouldn’t be able to draw at all. Drawing for donations is something I love. It relieves the pressure of meeting expectations and places the value judgment of your artwork in the hands of your subject and their conscience. You never know what you’re going to get, but what you get is always genuine. And getting anything sure beats nothing.
The next day we packed a lunch, piled in the truck, and headed downtown for the Chalk Walk at Market Square. We had been to a Chalk Walk in Raleigh, NC about a year ago and loved it. This would be a great way to scope the ropes for setting up while enjoying a gorgeous day out looking at art.
The sky was blue. The dogwoods were blooming. We had enough diesel to get there and back. The shoestrings we ate for breakfast were sitting well. We found the free parking garage and just as we were getting out of the truck, Bethany says “OH NO!” She’s staring at her phone.
“What is it!?” the boys and I say in unison.
“They’re trying to take the storage fee out of the wrong bank account; the SAME ONE that bounced it four days ago!” This was Bad News. Bethany puts so much time and care into juggling our four accounts that something going wrong is nearly unimaginable. Going wrong twice is a show-stopper. It was that stomach-dropping horror when a deer leaps out and you can’t stop the car. Time slowed down. I tried to breathe in the green spring air, but it was sallow and thick with despair. Chalk Walk would be the funeral procession of our happiness.
Bethany was seething hot angry tears, staring at her phone and stamping her foot some fifteen feet away. Douglas and I stared at each other wide-eyed and frozen until Fynn, blithely unaware that the world was ending, began asking trivial questions. “What’s that pipe for? How tall do you think most High Top vehicles are? We’re a High Top, right, because we parked in the High Top parking?”
We both turned to Fynn. “Fynn, no. This isn’t a good time to-“ THUMP! Bethany was beside us again slapping the truck. Matilda took it.
“There’s NOTHING we can do! I BEGGED and got the fee waived LAST time. They’re not going to wave it AGAIN! I don’t even know WHY PayPal took it out of this account. I RESET the defaults! There’s NO STINKING WAY we can afford this!”
From some remote place, I heard my voice saying “I think we need to call the banks Right Now and see if there’s ANYthing to be done. We’ll never enjoy this day unless we do.”
“Yeah. OK.” Bethany said, knowing she would be the one making the call, “But first we find a bench and we eat.” We headed out of the garage in silence. We made it half a block.
“What, Fynn.” Steel and Ice.
“Why does that sign say-“
“Fynn.” I interrupted, “Don’t talk to Mom right now. Walk with me." We trudged uphill toward Market Square, the bright sunlight dimly penetrating our dark cloud. I strode ahead, forcing Fynn to trot, as I quietly answered his continuous stream of questions. I saw grass between buildings ahead.
“Why are we crossing the street?”
“Because there will be benches.” I pointed. And there were. We sat. We prayed. Bethany called PayPal. We ate. Bethany called Citibank. I kept the boys occupied. The grassy area was a nice little spot lined with benches, trees, and a few sculptures. It just happened to be the one my sister had told me would be perfect for drawing portraits in. Through the trees we could see people milling about the Chalk Walk. After half an hour, Bethany resurfaced, triumphant.
“I didn’t realize that PayPal has a separate account for debits which is how storage is paid and that comes straight out of Citibank not 360 or TVA and the guy at Citi waived the fee but said this was the last time as long as we get the money in there by Tuesday which gives us three days but of course PayPal may have already taken out a fee and storage will likely slap us with a bounced check fee which means we’ll need to find 40 more from SOMEwhere to put in but for now the disaster won’t snowball, thank you God!”
Yes. And thank you Bethany. The sun was out.
Years ago, when we would hit hard times in Brooklyn, I would tell Bethany that she was overreacting. These were merely circumstances. Anger wasn’t going to fix anything. This did a lot of good. Like gasoline to fire. The smoldering cloud of gloom would last for days, weeks, even months, and I would do anything to get away. Hide. I wasn’t going to let my Don’t-Worry-be-Happy get sucked into that vortex, so I would go to my studio or crawl in a bottle leaving her alone with the anger and despair. It took me far too long to realize these were her Feelings, not enemies, and she needed me there feeling her feel her Feelings. Not cringing or judging or attacking, just being there.
It’s hard. It’s suffocating. But, man, has it changed things. I’ve learned that her anger was not because I’d saddled her with the financial responsibility but because the financial situation had gotten out of her control and there was nothing she could do about it. “Ohhh…” you say, nodding sagely, “she’s got Control Issues …” Shut Up. She’s damn good at what she does and she already knows what her issues are. I’ve also learned that what I thought was despair over our circumstances was despair that I would be remote and Absent. Again. That’s heart-rending. But now I’m getting an inkling of where this could go. The cords I’m not severing from my heart to hers go both ways, and the commitment I thought I was lacking from Bethany is now pouring into my heart through those same cords. So, if she’s angry, I’m going to be there for every terrifying minute of it.
The Chalk Walk was a lot of chalk drawings, the more of which you looked at, the more you wanted to do one yourself. At least that’s how Fynn and I were affected. I really liked the shark one.
This lady won last year …
This one was done by a grade-schooler ...
This girl did beautiful work. I don't know if she ever finished.
Beer on the moon! This one looked even better once the sky was black, and full of stars.
Halfway through, Fynn pointed out the free-for-all section in the central plaza. Lots of kids were drawing. He began asking to go and draw about every three minutes. “Let’s just look at everything first, and then we’ll see,” Bethany or I would respond. As we were hot and the crowds were wearing down our patience, we moved through the second half faster and faster.
A table on the edge of the free-for-all area was selling t-shirts and boxes of chalk. They also had a box of leftover chalks from those who had finished their drawings. It wasn’t clear if these were for sale or free for the using, so we sent Fynn to ask, figuring he had the best chance of charming free ones from the lady. Fynn returned with three chalks; white, lavender, and yellow. “Dad, are you coming?” Of course I was.
Douglas and Bethany chose to relax in the shade while Fynn and I found a spot he could draw. “Dad, are you drawing?” He asked hopefully.
“Well, are these all the colors you could get?” Yellow, white, and lavender is a very limited palette, especially drawing with chalk.
“No, there’s a whole bunch in the box.” Bless him. He was only being polite, taking three.
“I’ll be back,” I said, and went and picked out one of every color I could find.
We had fun.
Right before we left, the UT physics club had set up a table of things they had drug out of the lab and were doing demonstrations and soliciting donations. What a bunch of geeks! Douglas fell right to talking with them as if he wasn’t introverted at all, and Fynn nearly dove head first into the bowl of liquid nitrogen. They geeked hard for 15 minutes and even made donations from their own wallets as we left. I looked around. Tomorrow I would come back and I would work for donations.
Douglas pointed out in the truck that Fynn’s knife was the most potentially violent drawing in the whole Chalk Walk. “At least there wasn’t blood on it,” I said, “Though the drawing of Galactus showed him destroying the earth.”
“Even that,” Bethany said, “didn’t evoke the same kind of danger. There was a gentleness to everything there.”
“Yeah.” I said. “It crossed my mind to have him draw some chopped carrots."